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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

House has WAZZU moment as it votes to ban powdered alcohol

Chad Sokol
Murrow News Service

OLYMPIA – Federal regulators have legalized powdered alcohol, but some state lawmakers want to keep it out of Washington.

The House on Monday moved to ban the controversial product, a starchy powder that can be mixed with water to make rum, vodka or a fruit-flavored cocktail. Sold under the brand name Palcohol, it could become available as early as this summer, according to the company's website.

But supporters of the bill, which passed 91-6, said powdered alcohol is dangerous, unnecessary and too easy to misuse. Six states have already banned the product, while three, including Colorado, have opted to tax and regulate it under existing laws.

The response from Washington lawmakers has been mixed.

The original bill, sponsored by Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, would have allowed powdered alcohol under all the same restrictions that apply to hard liquor. Although it passed the Senate unanimously last month, the bill met resistance in the House Commerce and Gaming Committee.

Rep. Jeff Holy, R-Cheney, rewrote the bill to outlaw the purchase, sale and possession of powdered alcohol statewide. As a former Spokane police officer, Holy said he's concerned that people would smuggle the product into public places.

Some worried the small pouches of sweet powder would appeal to children. Others have raised concerns about the potential to misuse the product, by snorting or inhaling it, spiking an unsuspecting person’s food or drinks, or combining it with other alcoholic beverages.

“You might have absolutely no concept of the volume (of alcohol) that you're taking in,” Holy said.

That's not to say he doesn't enjoy drinking.

“I'm not a teetotaler,” he told his colleagues. “I drink – I went to Wazzu.”

Roach also reversed her stance on powdered alcohol.

“Banning it has been my personal preference all along,” she said in a recent statement.

Palcohol has refuted concerns through statements on its website. Made by the Arizona company Lipsmark LLC, the product is marketed as a convenient way for hikers to enjoy a stiff drink after a long hike, without carrying all the weight of a liquid. The industrial version could be used to clean wounds or power small engines, the company says.

The bill, which is headed back to the Senate for consideration, would allow powdered alcohol to be used for medical research and some industrial purposes.

Lipsmark was temporarily licensed to sell Palcohol in April 2014, but the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau later revoked the license, claiming it had been issued in error. The company quickly reapplied for federal approval, which the bureau issued again last month.

The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.